Does Anyone Frequent El Tacolote and/or La Parrilla Guadalajara on N. Lamar?
- MPH Dec 20, 2007 04:30 PM
I noticed a couple of interesting places on North Lamar today but wasn't able to check them out. Upon doing a search, I found two brief mentions of El Tacolote. One referred to it as "real Mexican food" like you'd find at Arandas (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/427011 ); the other, by the same poster, named their gorditas and al pastor as favorite dishes. La Parrilla Guadalajara is mentioned in this thread (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/355647 ), but the poster hadn't tried the food at that time.
I also saw what looked like a new Mexican-char-grilled-chicken restaurant on northbound Lamar, just south of the 183 underpass. Maybe near Meadowlark or Thurmond? The south-bound traffic was so bad that I couldn't take note of the name. Honestly, I don't know how those of you who work up north deal with it.
I don't get to north Austin very often. When I do, I usually go for Chinese or Vietnamese food. If any 'hounds could share specific details about their (recent) experiences at any of these places—dishes sampled, specialties, comparisons to similar restaurants in town—that would really help me prioritize my chow trips. Who knows? Maybe some tantalizing descriptions of their food would persuade other 'hounds to try these places, too.
I'd be hard pressed to day that I frequent El Tacolote, but I have been there and enjoyed a few of their offerings on the run.
The menu above the counter offers a wide range of tacos and plates (both breakfast and otherwise), along with quesadillas, tortas, and other such things. I've just had a few of their tacos, unadventurously all on flour tortillas. The tortillas are a decent mass-produced thin variety, but hand-griddled back to life and well filled, they are better than just serviceable.
The carne guisada filling has good sized chunks of beef along with cubes of boiled potato. While the meat is tender, it is pretty much unseasoned. That, along with the pure-potato flavor of the cubes suggests that while the meat may be stewed in some fashion, it is not in the same pot as the potatoes, and also not in a way that produces gravy. The flavor of the beef and potato shines, though, and little of their creamy green salsa goes a long way to livening it up.
Their chicharrones are cut into something like one-inch squares, maybe a quarter inch thick. They have a nice chile flavor and a soft-tender texture.
The lengua comes in smaller pieces than the carne guisada, but otherwise seem to be prepared about the same (save the potatoes), with no gravy and little spice, but a good clean flavor of the meat.
All in all, it's a good place to stop for a relatively quick bite, especially compared to the big fast-food chains that abound near the intersection of Rutland and Lamar. The building seems like it may once have been such a place, but it is completely redecorated, and they seem to have built patio seating where a drive-through once was.
Nearly all the signage (including the menu board) is in Spanish, and when I've been there, the whole transaction has happened without using English. It probably wouldn't hurt to be able to answer the "harina o maíz" question about tortilla types, the "cilantro y cebolla" question about whether to add the toppings, and the "aquí" question about whether you plan to dine in and enjoy the TV and jukebox or if you need your plate foil-wrapped in a bag. For all I know they'd happily switch to English if needed, but I haven't tested it.
There's a lot at El Tacolote I have not yet tried, but now I think I need to try La Parilla next time I'm in the area, unless someone beats me to it. (Now that I think about it, Swad is in the same shopping center, and I've been meaning to try that, too.)
Thanks for the report, Knoblauch. If I'm reading between the lines correctly, it sounds like El Tacolote makes a quick, easy meal for those who find themselves in the area, but it's not a chow-worthy destination in and of itself. That's very good to know. I'm also looking forward to the report(s) on La Parrilla. Maybe I'll plan on checking out the grilled chicken place next time I'm in the area.
I got a chance to try out the char-grilled chicken place this week. It's called Carne & Pollos Asados, and it's located on northbound Lamar just past St. John's and south of Anderson Lane. The free-standing restaurant has shallow parking for a couple of cars in the front with more parking available on the side and in back. As you walk in the front door, there's a bar across the shallow room with neon signs advertising Mexican beers over it. The kitchen is behind the bar, and there seems to be some kind of long dining room off to the left. Scattered tables for dining-in are located between the bar and the door and off to the right. They seem to be set up mainly for table service, but getting to-go orders was easy. You can head straight to the bar to order take-out or let one of the servers take your order. As for the menu, the titles of the dishes are in Spanish, but there's a description in English underneath. Staff appears to be bilingual. On my visits, a couple of Hispanic families were eating in the dining room. My overall impression was that the place seemed pretty friendly.
1/2 pollo asado ($6.75)—The surface of the chicken had all the flavor, which made me suspect that they used a rub rather than a marinade. That's often the cause of flavor that's only skin deep. The chicken skin was a bright reddish color, but it wasn't spicy. I didn't taste tomatoes or BBQ sauce, either, so I'm guessing the chicken was coated with a very mild red-chile paste and some Mexican spices. It kind of looked like something cooked on a backyard grill. The interior was a bit dry, unfortunately, especially the white meat, and it was pretty flavorless. At those prices, they're probably not procuring high-quality chicken.
The chicken came with a gorgeously-blistered jalapeño and great caramelized onions that were cooked until soft and well-browned, in addition to the standard rice and beans. The rice needed salt, but it wasn't bad. It seemed that the few wilted peas and diced carrot pieces in the rice were actually browned in oil with the rice before the rest of the ingredients (including the water they steam in) were added. Many places try to dump in a handful of barely-thawed frozen-pea-and-carrot medley at the last minute. The texture of the rice was not overly dry or rubbery, as it is when it's microwaved, nor was it too watery. Instead, it was just a little on the wet side, and the well-coated grains of rice stayed separated. There was no chicken broth added to the dish, as far as I could tell, which seemed odd, given how much chicken they're producing. The beans, however, were really satisfying. They were not refritos [refried] but frijoles a la charra, made with tons of sausage chunks and torn-off bacon pieces, in addition to cilantro, onions, and beans. They weren't spicy at all and seemed just soupy enough. To me, this was by far the best-tasting of all the items I tried.
The chicken plate also came with packaged corn tortillas. They were nicely warmed on a comal, not microwaved, but they were just acceptable.
Taco de carne asada—I thought I'd ordered carne deshebrada [shredded beef, which sometimes looks like barbacoa], but what I got wasn't remotely deshebrada-like, so I'm guessing that they gave me carne asada instead [grilled beef]. This version consisted of 1" x 1" x 1/2" squares of beef that seemed to have been fried in a skillet (like the faux asada prepared at many taco trucks) instead of cooked on a grill. There wasn't a whole lot to this dish. The meat, which was of better quality than the whole chickens, seemed to be seasoned with just salt and pepper, though there may have been just the faintest trace of lime from a marinade. The meat was tender, though maybe just shy of toughness. I thought this taco was fine, for the most part, but it was nothing to write home about.
Taco de pollo asado—Boneless, skinless chicken pieces were cooked in a skillet and seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime. Very moist. Mild flavor. Predictable, safe, but enjoyable enough.
Taco de camarón [shrimp]—Small shrimp of the previously-frozen variety were seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in a skillet, then thrown into a taco with a generous heaping of caramelized onions and a huge handful of Monterrey jack (or similar) cheese. This had so much cheese in it that it was really more like a quesadilla than a taco. You could think of it sort of like a Mexican grilled cheese—but with shrimp.
There was no printed takeout menu, and I'm afraid I can't remember the exact price of the tacos. However, I believe they ranged in price from $1.50 to $2 each, with the shrimp filling as the most expensive, followed by the carne asada. All of the tacos came on their corn tortillas (just one per taco; they were not doubled up) with a handful of not-very-fresh hand-torn cilantro and very coarsely chopped (1" long and pseudo-julienned) onion. A thin, hot, sour (from a touch of vinegar?), reddish-brown salsa made with reconstituted dried chiles and their seeds came with the tacos and plates. It was pretty one-dimensional, but it did well enough with that one note.
Based on what Knoblauch reported above, I'd say that Carne & Pollos Asados is maybe just a notch below El Tacolote. It's good enough for subsistence purposes or a quick lunch near work, but most things that I tasted were not spectacular and the seasonings were more workman-like than inspired. Only the beans seem worthy of a chow detour. Still, to me their chow was better than standard fast- or chain-restaurant-food.
This experience evoked a feeling of déjà vu, so I looked up one of my old reports. Sure enough, there was a taco stand with a similar name and menu on Montopolis, which I reported on here:
The best thing at that place was also the beans. Of course, this coincidence doesn't mean that the two places are related. At the place on Montopolis, the salsas, pollo, and carne asada tasted better than they do at the new place on Lamar. It's also always possible that the new place will improve with time.
MPH you know chicken seems to be one of the most unpredictable things for me to grill. I've done the dry rubs,the marinades,the dry rub,grill and then an amber ale and dijon glaze followed by an additional grilling. My marinade is a mojo. Maybe I just don't grill/roast chicken enough. I'd be interested to here what you or anyone else has to say(Scrumptiouschef?) on what can make a great grilled/smoked chicken. Dry on the outside, moist on the inside.
Tucked in a shopping center where Rodeo is (scary I know that...). Went safe and cheap to start.
Ordered two tacos, both corn. Pastor (my favorite) and puerco verde to go. Also asked if they served salsa on the table and to get me a taste of those.
Guy behind the counter immeditately took me for a complete gringa and tried to talk me out of the puerco verde. I held to my guns and he just shook his head. Boy, am I glad I did. Although it was wrapped in a flour tortilla instead of corn, I think that was a good thing. Pork was fall-apart tender large chunks. Done like a stew with the sauce starting of fairly mild, but left a very nice, gentle tingle in the mouth and throat. For the dollar and some change, this is going to be my cheap eats when the weather's cold. Definately comfort food from my El Paso days. Nothing worth driving across town for, as there are such better tacos to be had south, but in the Land of the Bland it's up there.
My pastor, while perfectly fine, wasn't as much to write home about. Standard pastor (onion, cilantro - no pineapple) with a milder version of sauce. Pretty unremarkable, some fatty chunks. Bland-ish.
The green sauce reminded me of Lucy's in El Paso. Spikey and hot, lots of hunks of green chile. I know I'll be picking some of that up in larger quantities for hubbers. Red sauce was the warm, cooked variety with chicken stock. Kinda eh.
Seem to have a lot of seafood dishes on the menu, all around 7 - 18 dollars. Didn't see any go by while I was waiting. (about 10 or so sit-down tables and a tv was in the corner playing soccer).